43 - Flattering a Sinner part 1

Anyone who sees another Jew violating an issur and flatters him, whether with words or some gesture that indicates his approval, has transgressed not only the mitzva of tochacha but also the prohibition of flattery.

We are stretching in ahavas yisrael together to create z’chusim for K’lal Yisrael in these urgent times.


Last week’s stretch of the week was:  Show appreciation to those who are helpful to you.  

Please allow ONE person to share her experience with this exercise for ONE minute.

Taking A Deeper Look - Lesson #43




Anyone who sees another Jew violating an issur and flatters him, whether with words or some gesture that indicates his approval, has transgressed not only the mitzva of tochacha but also the prohibition of flattery.  This issur is derived from the passuk (Bamidbar 35:33), “Do not sully the land with flattery.”  By implying that we approve of the sinner’s misdeeds, our allegiance to HaShem comes under question, since a servant cannot love his master if he loves his master’s enemies.

We find that Chazal spoke very strongly against a flatterer.  “From the day that flattery gained power, judgments have been perverted and deeds have become corrupted.  A flatterer brings HaShem’s anger into the world, and his tefillos are not accepted.  He is called a defiler of the land and causes the Shechina to depart from the Jewish people.  He brings about exile and falls to the depths of Gehinnom.”

Even when you are certain that your tochacha will not be accepted, that does not justify giving the sinner a pat on the back.  You always have the option of remaining quiet.  Although you might feel uncomfortable about not saying a good word, keep in mind that according to some opinions, flattering a wrongdoer may be prohibited even when you are not merely uncomfortable but there are negative consequences.   However, if there is a definite danger, you may express approval of the sinner in order to save your life, since this is not a matter of yehareig ve’al ya’avor.

Flattery that is prohibited includes praising r’sha’im, even when not in the rasha’s presence, and to praising wickedness and wrongdoing.  It also includes praising someone in a way that will cause him to sin or will reinforce his error, or not rebuking someone for a sin you observed and thereby contributing to a future likelihood to sin and to lack of regret.  Additionally, it applies to “buttering up” someone so that he will trust you and you can deceive him.

(Excerpted from The Code of Jewish Conduct by Rabbi Yitzchok Silver)

Story(based on a true story)

When my kids were younger and lived at home, Shabbos meals were a little crazy.  I do love when my kids come back to the house with their kids, but I am also enjoying spending the time on my own with my husband and our friends in our community, having all-adult meals.  Lately, we’ve started making these block meals-invite a whole bunch of couples, all in similar life stages, and have a mini-mesiba.  At one particular meal we had two sets of long-time neighbors and some new friends from across town.  After the divrei Torah, conversation turned to the rav who gave a guest-speech in our shul this week. 

The drasha.  I had hoped nobody would bring it up, and had specifically not mentioned it once since the end of shul.  The illustrious rav had delivered a twenty-five minute oration between layning and mussaf.  It was pretty interesting for the first five to ten minutes, and would have been great as a shiur, but at that point, we were all pretty frustrated.  Our rav speaks for ten minutes, to give us a taste of something, and those who want more come back in the afternoon for the shiur.  

“A chutzpa!” my neighbor Refael said.  “To speak that long, then?  Who does that?”

“Plenty of people,” his wife answered.  “Just not here.”

“Well,” he countered, “he should have found out what we do here.”

I didn’t like this conversation at all.  I was getting ready to inject some “dan lekaf z’chus”.  The clock in our shul is behind the speaker, and he got carried away.  Or maybe nobody told him how long to speak and this is how it’s done in his shul, where most people can’t come back for a shiur later and this is their weekly dose.  Instead, I chose avoidance, and brought up my daughter Shifra son’s upsherin and the Shabbos we had just spent by her in her community. 

“Ahh!  There’s another rav who likes to talk,” said our neighbor Chaim.  “A lot of good things to say, but he says them all at once.”  His wife agreed, although her face didn’t fully match her words.  Their son lives there, and I know she has enjoyed that rav’s drashos.

Somehow, this seemed to be a popular subject, because everyone but me seemed to be agreeing, at least verbally.  What was it about a gathering of friends that could somehow make me feel like I was thirteen, trying to navigate the waves of social conversation and figure out how to speak up for what’s right without offending or causing weird looks?  My husband made a comment about the guest rav’s being inconsiderate and looked to me for support.  Flustered, I nodded, and mumbled, “Yeah.”   

I remember when Shifra was younger and her school got a new principal who I was really enjoying.  But a few months in, I was discussing it with a friend who also had a child in that school and she had some really negative, judgmental things to say about this principal. I didn’t feel like I could disagree, and I even felt like I had to agree or else I would be the clueless one who didn’t care about her daughter’s level of education.  Was I missing something, that I wasn’t being negative?  Was it somehow right to speak about this woman like this?  So I joined on, and began to feel some of what she felt.  And now I was not only allowing this negative discussion at my Shabbos table, but agreeing.  If I didn’t say something, they would keep doing it. 

During the first possible opening, I quickly said that there may be reasons for the speech’s length that we don’t know, including simple human infallibility.  Which of us doesn’t sometimes misread a room?  Then I immediately asked about Chani’s new exercise program, and talk shifted.  When I spoke to my husband  later, he said that the conversation had gotten away from him as well, to the point where he said things that shouldn’t have been said.  We both agreed we would need to be careful if we wanted to not support something that wasn’t right.

Discussion Question Options:

How is a wrongdoer affected by our agreeing with or supporting them?  How are we affected?

How can social dynamics make us actively agree with or not disagree with something we know is wrong?  Is negativity the norm in some circles? 

How can people who are known wrongdoers end up in a position where people feel the need to flatter and support them?  Do we feed into it?  What can we do about it?

Stretch of the Week:

Speak up constructively to correct a wrong you observe. 



Stretch Of The Week